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August 31, 2008

Can you give me the "club" price?

August 31. Day 62.

This morning I took to the Temecula wine country by bike. The plan: discover what San Diego has to offer, after being away for ten years. And drink some good wine.

The first stop, La Cereza, aka "cherry" in Spanish. My first thought: So this is how Americans do wine. So far, I've been to wineries in Mexico, France and Connecticut. (Connecticut!? Indeed. My senior year in college, we took a bus trip to a nearby winery, where we learned that every U.S. state produces wine -- including Alaska. I had a final paper due the next day, on Hamlet, and after an evening of more than modest sips the paper was one of my most, er, creative efforts. Ok, fast-forward to 2008...)

La Cereza clings, I hope, to the lower rungs of the California wine hierarchy. Basically, it was impossible to get to the wine, as the tasting room was bloated with: huge plaster angels. Awful paintings. Various wine and not-wine trinkets, like: serving platters and funny napkins and decorative cherubs, lots and lots of fake flowers. Oh yeah, and people, too. So many people herded up against the counter and each other, yammering. The point was to sell sell sell, whatever the hell they could. Yay, consumerism. Yay, Temecula economy. I think I spent a total of 30 seconds inside, enough to buy some water because I was dehydrated from the bike ride, and then I ran outside for fresh air. And the wine? I didn't make it to the counter, so, technically, undrinkable!

Next stop: South Coast Winery. The gewurztraminer was decent. Fairly aromatic, and it disappeared fast in Mr. A's glass -- two good signs. But the chardonnay, recommended to me as neither too oaked, not lacking in personality, smelled like sulphur. Ok, I'm being downright mean. To be fair, it was more like isovaleric acid. Anyway. I took a few drinks and decided to stop compromising the pizza, which was actually good.

Final stop: Alex's Red Barn, which was a few minutes off the main road. Already promising. I locked my bike, which seemed a silly urban precaution in this pristine setting. A few visitors walked out, and the owner greeted us herself. During the tasting, we chatted about wines, the quinces and asian pears in her garden, Germany (her homeland), how they're only open on weekends (unlike most other wineries there), how shiraz and cabernet sauvignon usually get listed on menus, bike riding and her pets. Pleasant, not pushy. The last tasting, a sherry, was caramelicious.

I glanced at the prices and noticed they were different for "wine club" members.

"How does this club work?"

Two bottles per month, free tastings, yada yada. Not interested. Moving on.

"What about offering the club price to a new customer? For getting an introductery bottle. Two bottles?"

She squinted at me, perhaps unsure if I was actually asking for the club price or if I didn't understand the club rules.

"So you'd like two bottles today, at the club price, and then next month you'll start shipment of two more bottles?" she asked.

"No, I mean, for a new customer, who isn't in the club, but may want to join the club one day, just like a little welcome discount?"

"I'm sorry. I can't do that."

"Can't" is such a European way of saying "won't," and this winery was closest in style to the one I'd visited in France. We got a bottle of the sherry anyway, since it was good. Plus, I want this place to last.

Gained: Nichts, again.

August 30, 2008

Can I check out your kitchen?

August 30. Day 61.

What is the difference between ordering a cafe au lait and ordering a coffee and adding your own half and half? I realize what the definitions are -- the former has steamed milk and, sometimes, a splash of foam -- but when the two drinks sat upon my table, they were the same color, had an identical texture and smelled the same. I decided to do a blind taste test, closing my eyes and sampling a teaspoon of each. Results: Same taste. Exquisite.

This evening, you see, I entered a sugary, caffeinated wonderland called Heaven Sent Desserts. Waiters carrying trays of chocolatey goodness past my table walked briskly enough to be efficient, but just slow enough so I could a good close-up of the other options.

I had been torn between a raspberry chocolate souffle and a gigantic malted chocolate trifle with caramelized bananas, and went for the banana option only because I wanted to save the raspberry one for a special occasion. Today, I needed me some comfort food.

When it arrived from the refrigerated viewing case, I took a few chilled spoonfuls, cutting vertically through whipped cream, malted chocolate mousse, marinated sponge cake and caramelized bananas. Once it warmed up, everything got gooeyer, softer, fluffier. And I knew. I could never leave this place, ever. I would just sleep in a booth, plug in my laptop and write my entire dissertation, here. Friends who came to visit and eat cake could bring me clothes, and I'd chomp my way through their entire menu until next spring. Breakfast: a cappuccino and croissant or madeleine. Bread pudding for lunch and a cookie for dessert. Dinner: anything from the main case, with a side of brownie.

Hey, I've been househunting, but maybe I need to think outside the box.

As the waiters rushed in and out of the kitchen, I became aware that this thing on my table, this object, this bliss delivery mechanism, came from somewhere. It was assembled on a counter by human hands. I could see some action behind a swinging door, and suddenly I wanted to know.

My waiter happened to be walking by just then.

"Hi again. Would it be possible to see your kitchen? I'm not a baker or anything. I'm just curious."

"Oh, I can't let you tonight, 'cause the owner isn't here. Sorry!"

Damn. Something makes me think they won't let me sleep here, either.

Gained: Nichts.

August 29, 2008

Can you waive my late fee?

August 29. Day 60.

Irresponsible. Sloppy. Lazy.

I know, I know, I know.

I was supposed to pay my car insurance bill on August 13 and only got around to doing it today. Terrible!

When I called to pay with a phone check, the agent explained that there's a $7 late fee included in the total. For a second, I felt like I deserved it. (Refer to opening line.) And then I decided I didn't.

"Can you please waive that?" I asked. No explanations, no eyelash batting or ingratiating excuses.

"Ok," she said.


Thanks, AAA! By the way, these people gave me the lowest annual rate by far, after I compared between three or four companies. Hey, I'm all about spreading the word about good peeps. And making the bad ones squiiirm.

Speaking of evil merchants, today I helped a friend draft a letter to a Venetian antique dealer. A week ago, she bought a ceramic menorah from Antichita Al Ghetto, assured by the dealer of its authenticity, only to discover on Google that it's most likely a contemporary Moroccan inkwell. Her credit card company will refund the 110 Euros but told her to send back the item and ask for a refund in writing. At the end of her letter, I slipped in a line that said, basically, "If you don't cooperate I'll report you to the Italian IRS and the Venetian tourist authority." (I was tempted to add, "You will also be the featured Evil Merchant of the Week in a dazzlingly popular new U.S. blog which has millions of daily visitors from all over the world," but I realized that would be a slight overreach. No one from Burma has checked out this page yet.)

Either way, I doubt they'll be intimidated, since it takes a lot more than a transatlantic threat to make an Italian merchant sweat, I suspect. But, worth a try.

Gained: $7.

Can I try your cheesecake?

August 28. Day 59.

An anecdote: I was relaxing on the terrace of a wine bar yesterday evening, when one of the two older men sitting next to me addressed himself to my person.

"Are you alright? You look angry."

"I'm just pensive," I said, smiling now to make up for my sober expression.

Why? Why did I smile instead of saying, "Actually, my husband died" -- as my dinner companion later told me she wants to say, after getting the very same line countless times. Why didn't I say, "I don't see you smiling." Why do men expect women, especially young women, to be bubbly and sweet all the time? Do they smile softly while walking their dogs, feeling excited about life but too shy and delicate to express these complicated feelings? Do they hum to themselves in line at bank, thinking of the delicious carrot soup they'll make tonight for their loved ones? Anyway.

A word of advice: I came across these tips about salary negotiation in academia, which translates to many other fields. Sensible, and gets right to the point.

And, and asking: I went to The Living Room, a student haunt by SDSU decorated like -- you got it. At the counter, the sacher torte immediately beckoned, with delicate dollops of raspberry jam peeking between layers of chocolate sponge cake, all snuggling under a blanket of ganache. But I started chatting with the cashier about her favorite dessert (the berry cheesecake) and whether she gets to eat for free (only if she's lucky.) Ultimately, the sacher won. One of my core tenets: never say no to raspberries and chocolate.

Between Mr. A and I the torte quickly disappeared, but was I in the mood for something more? I was still thinking about that cheesecake. Could I commit to a whole slice? Should I really indulge in two desserts? Or stay calm, avoid the midnight calories, save a few bucks.

I ended up opting for a compromise: Sample the cheesecake, to get the flavor without the commitment.

"Here's a rather strange question," I asked the cashier. "I'm thinking of getting a slice of cheesecake, but would it be possible to sample a sliver first?"

"It's pre-cut," she said, staring at me as if I were some kind of compulsive cake eater who goes around asking for free samples all the time.

Fair enough. But perhaps prefacing with "strange question" wasn't a good move. After all, I shouldn't bias people against me before I ask. At least let them think I'm crazy after giving me what I want... Note to self.

Gained: Nothing, though sometimes, being told no is a good thing.

August 27, 2008

Could you please stop hovering?

August 27. Day 58.

Today's asking occurred shortly after dawn. What an easy day this will be, with my daily asking completed before I've even had time to check my morning emails!

I woke up, as I mentioned in the last post, on the couch, after falling asleep in a taquito-induced torpor. Last night I went to dinner with A&K at Casa de la Rosas, a mexican place in Old Town. I don't know what they stuffed their taquitos with, but within half an hour of finishing dinner my eyes were droopy. We went for a walk, followed by chocolate-mint tea at Extraordinary Desserts, and as we discussed marzipan and the pursuit of happiness, I rested my head on the stucco wall and started imagining it was a soft, downy pillow.

After dragging myself to shelter, I collapsed on the couch and woke up with a start. Seven hours later.

I was refreshed. But hungry.

"Want to get breakfast?" I asked Mr. A, who was getting ready for work. (No, that wasn't my asking. That was just a question.)

He immediately got a slightly wild look in his eyes, a look that says one thing alone: Denny's!!

An hour later, as I was munching on my final fries and snatching bites of his pancakes, the waitress came with the bill. Mr. A slid it in front of him and brought his pen to the tip line, as the waitress stood next to him, watching. He stopped, slightly uncomfortable, and she waited patiently.

"Would you mind coming back later, or can we drop the receipt off at the register?" I asked.

"Sure, I'll be back in a little." I hope it wasn't rude, and I'm sure she was in a hurry and probably didn't really care about the tip itself. But it felt like she was rushing him.

Gained: Comfort to multiply in peace, for a guy who's a much more generous tipper than I am (but didn't you already know that?)

Drop the rent by $50?

August 26. Day 57.

Yup, it's actually August 27 -- I was intending to write last night, but I fell asleep on the couch at 10 and woke up this morning! So, today will have two posts.

Yesterday, the house hunt continued, and I saw two attractive options: a studio and a 1 bedroom cottage. The studio was listed for $800, and the cottage owner said the price is negotiable.

Dilemma: go for larger space in a slightly off central location, or get a really cool space in a good spot, but less square footage? I'll have to figure that out later (or sooner), but in the meantime, I asked the studio manager if the rent was flexible.

"It's below market value," he said, practically cutting me off. But he was a decent guy, and we had hit it off as he showed me the place. He'd traveled to Europe and South America while working as an archaeologist, and now he'd retired to this building. It was old and storied, with a courtyard and bright pink walls, a cross between Miami and Mexican revival. Half a century ago, crackheads used to roam the hallways. Clint Eastwood once filmed a western there, allegedly burning part of the building. Now young professionals were swooping in and out as we stood in the lobby, talking.

"I realize it's a nice place, but my budget is tight. I'm a good tenant, I'd take great care of the place, I'm reliable, responsible," I tried.

"You gave me a good vibe. I can't make any promises, but I'll talk it over with the owner."

The plan: Drop off my application with a hand written note, to show what a lovely tenant I'd be, especially for $750. And meanwhile, decide between two possibilities with different advantages.

Gained: Nothing yet, but I'll keep you posted.

August 25, 2008

House hunt haggles

August 25. Day 56.

Please let me indulge in 5 seconds of shameless marketing-- not for myself, but for readers!

From Boston:
I was totally inspired by you a few weeks ago at the
farmer's market to bargain down the price of some end-of-the-day corn. I only saved $0.50, but you know, it's the principle. :)
From Ohio:

It's totally rubbing off! I saw a late charge on my credit card, called up to say I'd been traveling and hadn't received the bill. She took off half, but I persisted with you in mind. If she can take off half just like that, surely she can take it all off: "Are you sure you can't remove the entire charge?". And then she took it off! Gained: $40. (Though I am of the opinion it shouldn't have been there anyway.)

From California:
My mother, analyst by day and jeweler by night, told me she talked down some strands of beads for her next creations. (Ok, fine, it's my mom.)
Awesome!! Thanks for writing. As I hear of future askings, I'll add them to this list. I wonder what we can gain together by July 1, 2009 -- the end of this experiment?

My own asking today is still a twinkle in my eye. More soon.

UPDATE: I saw an apartment today. A really great apartment. Two bedrooms, dining room, hardwood floors, right price, right neighborhood. Only drawback listed in the ad: I'd have to split a $100 monthly cable bill. But I rarely watch TV. (Well, I do watch some shows online -- House, Grey's Anatomy, and various nostalgic reruns; but I get my news from the internet and, gasp, papers. I just don't have time to be at these channels's beck and call.) So, I owed it to myself to find out if...

"About the cable, I don't really watch TV, so I wouldn't be interested in sharing that. How would that work for you?"

"Oh. Well, it's expensive. I mean, it's like $100 a month. I didn't have it before my last roommate, but once she got here and we got cable, I started watching more TV. I could do without Showtime, but I have to have my other shows. And there are lots of good movies."

"Netflix?" I tried.

"We get that too. But I never watch them. See? There are four here. We got them a few months ago. Live four months ago. 'Galapagos.' I forgot we had it. Movies are easier to watch on TV."

"So, you're only looking for someone who would split the cable with you?"


Maybe I could have coughed up the extra $50 per month -- it was a really great place, actually -- but I couldn't imagine living with someone who talks as much as she does. In ten minutes, I'd learned about her job, her roommate's job, how far away her mother lives (4 miles), what highway she takes to work, the location of the Starbucks she once walked to (Laurel Street) and something about how her roommate eight years ago was psycho so she changed the look to her bedroom.

Gained: A refocus of my priorities as a renter. Up a notch: tranquility.

Are you as bored as I am?

August 24. Day 55.

It definitely sounded good: Head to Del Mar, an adorable oceanfront community that calls itself a "village" in promotional brochures, to watch a free reading of the Twelfth Night. The performance would take place in a park as the sun was setting over the Pacific. Capital way to spend a Sunday afternoon.


When Mr. A and I got there, a woman handed him an envelope and explained that our suggested donation "should be $10. Each." (There was an emphasis on the "each," I promise. For whatever that's worth.)

The seats were facing the sun, which at 5 p.m. was burrowing directly into my retinas.

And the play. Ninety minutes, no intermission. Five actors divvied up the characters among them, drawing names out of a hat. That led to some interesting gender switches in a play that's already about mistaken identities. But there was no differentiation among their various personae, so when a woman played both Sir Toby and Orsino with the same tone and swagger, it was impossible to tell them apart. I enjoy Shakespeare, and community theaters can be excellent venues, but this was... something else.

I looked around. Half of the audience was frowning and the rest tittered politely when it appeared something funny was happening. Mr. A and I exchanged ever more insistent glances. Each was wondering, I suspect, "Are you as bored as I am?"

Finally, I couldn't take it any more.

"Are you as bored as I am?" I whispered.

He nodded and then we made a run for it -- but not before leaving a symbolic $3 in the envelope, the only cash our collective wallets, but still not enough to say "Sorry!"

Gained: $17 and ninety minutes.

August 23, 2008

Who and how do you bounce, oh bouncer? (And, my plan for America's borrowers)

August 23. Day 54.

I had a thought today. An evil thought. As you read, imagine that I am rubbing my chin pensively, so as to appear more authoritative.

The Times published an article in Sunday's edition about how difficult it is to get out of paying student loans.

Those arrogant underachievers who get jolted awake by wage garnishment and collection agencies because they couldn't find work or afford those pitiful $500 per month payments -- how dare they expect sympathy? forbearance? a hardship grace period? If only there were something to motivate those losers to finally get their acts together and pay off those loans, like people did back in my day. Oh wait, my parents paid for my tuitions, all four of them. But still.

Here's the solution I put forth to the American people: What if at the signing of every educational loan promissory note, a new clause were built in. "If borrower does not pay back loan within X years [to be determined by lending institutions and schools -- not borrowers, heavens!], the academic degree acquired with said funds is revoked and [half or complete] loan is forgiven." Half of the loan, so there remains some incentive to lend. Or all the loan, to be benificent with the less fortunate.

There you have it! People don't repay? Such loans are harder to collect because they're not collateralized? Great! Make the degree count as the equity it is!

Perhaps, to take this a step further, we could institute a degree swapping payment system, where successful people with no degrees could pay off the loans of indigent Harvard graduates and then assume their diplomas. It works for condos, and is a college degree not the most precious foundation there is?

(For the record... in case anyone thinks I'm serious... get real!! I'm loaded with loans from my undergrad years, and I'd never advocate such a solution even if I were debt free. But can't you just imagine such ideas being tossed around Capitol Hill over Highland Parks?)

(My Mama has just implored me to not publish this. "Don't give anyone any ideas! If Bush reads it, he'll hire you as his economic advisor." I'll take my chances.)

Speaking of privilege, I was back in downtown tonight, struck by an insistent Pinkberry craving. That's next door to Moonstone, a club that wants to be veeeery exclusive. Think LA, or even NY!

Unlike other Gaslamp clubs, there was no drunken horde clogging the doorway, and the bouncer appeared to be culling quite ruthlessly from the few who dared present themselves.

After about ten minutes of observing and nibbling fro-yo from across the velvet rope, I made eye contact with the bouncer and he came over.

"Just curious, how do you decide who gets in?"

"There's a guestlist."

"I see. But what about the people outside. You're kind of supposed to decide who to let in, right? Is it about how they're dressed?"

"Sometimes it is." He held out a business card. "Just call ahead so you're on the list."

Gained: future access to a club I'll probably never go to. But who knows?

August 22, 2008

Can I drive your pedicab?

August 22. Day 53.

Today's asking was too exhilarating for words.

After an evening of all-you-can-eat Greek food, flamenco and belly dance shows, and rai music at Zorba's, my new favorite restaurant, I headed to downtown to catch the last hour of the bar scene. Mr. A and I had drinks at Bondi and then, as we strolled back to the car, discussing the pros and cons of living in Italy (Him: the Italians, eww. Me: the Italians, yay!), I realized what would make the evening perfect.

"I need to drive a pedicab."

Mr. A, by now used to my strange requests -- motivated recently by this project or, more generally, by my inner wierdo -- agreed to wander around until we spotted a lone pedicab driver who I could accost.

Just a block from the car, I spotted him, pulling around the corner in a tight curve, all sinew and smiles.

I waved him over and Mr. A casually slinked back, knowing it would be easier for me to ask a young bike peddler to indulge my fantasy if my boyfriend wasn't holding my hand.

"Need a ride?"

"Actually, I was wondering something. Could I try driving it?"

"You want to ride this?" he verified.

"I promise I won't steal it."

"Okay! Get in! We need to get out of the traffic." We u-turned into a quieter block as I asked him where he's from -- Turkey -- and I used my only Turkish phrase, "tesekkur ederim," which made him laugh.

Then he pulled over.

"Be careful. You don't have one of these," he said, waving the laminated permit that was hanging around his neck.

I straddled the bike seat and noticed two things. The cross bar was very high -- built for a taller male, of course. And, the pedals were incredibly easy to move.

I started pushing.

For about three years, downtown San Diego has been overtaken by swarms of these pedicabs. From day one I thought it was an ingenious idea, making the city seem a little more fun, a little more cosmopolitan. Recently I've started seeing girl bikers, whose micro-shorts and charming smiles match the guys' built arms and cheeky grins.

When I see a pedicab driver pulling a couple, drunk or tired or lazy or just in love, I just wonder how in the world he or she can. I barely pull myself up a hill. Let alone on a bike. Let alone a bike and a cart. Let alone a full cart. But the drivers make it seem so easy, zipping around like Olympians, or at least happy, energetic young folk.

I was amazed by how easy it was to push the pedals. The cart was weightless, and I flew forward.

But the handle. That was a problem. It turned sharply to the left and turned the wheel sharply, until I thought I might fall over. I braked and recentered the wheel. Then, pedaled again. And it turned to the right.

Finally, I started to get the hang of it. I kept applying the brakes and used all my arm strength to keep the wheel pointing forward, and then I pedaled away. I'm sure that's not how they do it, but it worked for me.

"Be careful!" my pedicab mentor kept yelling. "Be careful!"

Soon, too soon, I stopped. From across the street, Mr. A was smiling -- or so it seemed under the dim lamplight.

Gained: five minutes driving a pedicab, satisfying a long-term curiosity.

And, jottings from earlier today:

Last night I found myself at Rebecca's, a cafe and defacto study depot that stays open nonstop from Thursday morning to Sunday evening. Every time I'm in there, I struggle to categorize its look. It's a large, open space, with a mix of vintage and simply old (those labels referring more to cuteness rather than age) furniture, tall ceilings, a stage. Maybe it's not the aesthetic or vibe that eludes categorization, but the spectre of what the space was, before bring Rebecca's. I could imagine anything from a laundromat to a supermarket to an unemployment office. Hmm.

And as I mused about the layers of this space across time, a flash of insight came.


A modest word with a noble allure, not unlike parsnip or pertussive. A word that could have served in many a conversation. A word to end all words.

Or not.

In any case, sure enough, it's all over google. (Insert disappointed sigh here. And there I thought I was the first to smoosh those two words together. Silly me.) Of course, there were hundreds of instances of re-question, but I'm talking about request-ion. From the Urban Dictionary:


requesting something indirectly by way of a question
note: this is distinguished from a regular question because the answer is usually obvious
"are those peanut m&m's?" (requestion)
"yes, would you like some?"

Mr. A said it strikes him as a very newspapery word. "The Red Cross has requestioned additional supplies in Paris, where NATO troops continue to fight Baguettista forces."

I see it as something polite and tentative, but not necessarily oblique or passive-aggressive (as it seems in the Urban Dictionary). "I have a requestion. Would you mind kicking someone else's chair every time you walk by my table?"

Free career guidance?

August 21. Day 52.

For reasons completely unrelated to my graduate studies, yesterday I found myself in the office of two professors at San Diego City College, learning about a book fair they're organizing and the tiny press they run. I'm going to be helping them get the word out about this event, so they were telling me about the authors scheduled to give readings, how many people came last year, that sort of thing.

At the end -- or what seemed like the end at the time -- of our chat, I mentioned that I'm also a grad student, not just a freelance book fair promoter (ok, not my real job, but close enough in this case), and added, "Not that I'm soliciting free career advice, but how do you like teaching here?"

That's how I learned about the differences between community college and four year universities from the perspective of two young literature professors who are clearly making an impact in their institution.

Community college: No research, crazy teaching load (five courses per term), students with interesting life experience (in a class about Che, a student put up his hand and mentioned, "Yeah, I worked with him"), repetitive intro survey classes, but... no departmental politics! They claim they are actually friends with their peers and the college president stops by their house for an occasional beer.

University: Time to research, pressure or freedom to publish, interesting grad seminars and course topics, access to great libraries, but hideous politics. I've never been on the receiving end of an academic's scheme, but from what's been murmured around the hallowed hallways of my own academic institution (hint: East Coast, old, storied), a few professors put the famed frenemiships (not a word, but what's the noun associated with frenemy?) of Lindsay, Nicole, and Paris to shame.

We even ended up trading ideas about what I could do after graduation -- teaching, reporting, going the corporate route.

In all, it was an unexpected and totally refreshing way to spend the afternoon. Not to mention that they're bringing many great authors to San Diego for a week of readings. You guys are awesome!

Gained: Some insights about how I could start spending my days as of June 4, 2009 (Commencement!)

August 20, 2008

Free car engine diagnosis?

August 20. Day 51.

Today's two askings:

I. I saw a coupon online for a free diagnosis of a "check engine" light. I don't have such a light, but my car has been mysteriously stalling recently. I called to ask if they'd look at it for free, even though it was a more complicated procedure. I added I would be open to fixing it there afterwards, or coming in for future services. The manager agreed, and was nice enough to keep my car all afternoon, run a few tests, drive it around (evidenced by the slightly higher odometer reading and lower gas gauge when I picked it up). The result? They couldn't find anything! The car was perfectly well behaved. I just hope it doesn't stall again tomorrow, when I'm driving my grandma to the doctor.

Gained I: Free exploratory diagnosis, valued around $80 at the other mechanic shops I had asked before finding this coupon.

II. Borders was the only bookstore I found in San Diego with theory books by Walter Benjamin, which I need for the chapter I'm working on. With two of his classics in hand (Illuminations and the second volume of his collected works), I asked the cashier if I could get the online price, which was $2 cheaper. She apologized, but offered this instead: a 20% discount if I was a Border's Rewards member. I happened to be a member, but didn't think to ask for that type of discount -- merely the online price. But asking for the first discount led to the second.

Gained II: $5.

August 19, 2008

An open letter to Wamu regarding overdraft "protection"

August 19. Day 50.

Dear Wamu,

Here is a letter to say thanks for agreeing to cancel my overdraft protection.

As your telephone banker requested (see the last two paragraphs of yesterday's posting), I drove over to your branch and asked for a form so I could opt out of overdraft protection. It took a good twenty minutes in traffic, but what's twenty minutes when the results are greater fiscal efficiency for us both? Hey, I even found parking right out front!

Lucky me, there was no line, so I hopped up to your first available teller and asked her for this magical form.

But wait! What's this? You've say there is no such form? I can't opt out? I misinterpreted what the phone teller told me?

It's not me, it's you?

Wamu, I feel hurt. Emasculated, actually. How else can I feel, when you've taken away my power of decision? Shouldn't using protection be a joint decision, after all?

Your resourceful teller feels bad -- she never meant to hurt me. In fact, she has a solution!

"I can decrease your overdraft limit, from $1,250, but if you overdraw, you'll still have to pay the fee," she incants.

I explain I don't particularly care what my limit is -- make it $0 -- as long as Wamu will never pump funds into a transaction my checking account can't cover and then charge me $33. Basically, I'm not interested in that so-called service anymore.

"Well, you see it's a really more like a fine, not a service. It's meant to punish people for dropping below zero."

Now we're finally connecting. A moment of truth. Your function is to punish me by charging $33, rather than provide a fiduciary service! Thanks, Wamu! And so cheaply, too. Those kinds of "arrangements" usually cost much more on Craigslist.

I haven't overdrawn in more than a year, so this is more a battle of principle. And in principle, I agree that people who don't manage their bank accounts shouldn't be rescued by their banks. But to charge money for a service they don't want, rather than simply not allowing the transaction to go through... below the belt, Wamu.

Perhaps I'll take this up with your corporate headquarters, but more likely, I'll trade up and smile with satisfaction, rather than pity, when I read about your billions of losses on Wall Street.

La Roxy

Gained: Confirmation of my lingering suspicion that Wamu is an inferior banking institution. Time to find an alternative.

August 18, 2008

Reversing the roles: Retailer as asker

August 18. Day 49.

One thing that needs to happen for negotiation to be possible is buyers need to lose the conventional framework that respects the price tag. When I see a listed price, it usually feels strange to bargain. Some things -- ceramics in Tangiers, car insurance for a corporate fleet -- are perceived as more negotiable than others. But toothpaste? a real estate commission? a cell phone contract? -- they're rarely discussed. The way I'm starting to see things, every pricetag is itself a request. "Will you pay x for y?" the merchant asks. And 99.9 percent of the time, buyers say, "Sure!"

A new dry cleaner just opened in place of a defunct flower shop, and after passing by the construction and a big "coming soon sign," I stopped in to ask about prices. A dress costs around $8 or $9. How did they decide that? Based on focus groups, the competition, whatnot. Prices will always be as high as the market will tolerate. But when I heard that specific figure, and contrasted it to so many cheaper cleaners within a mile radius that do an identical job, it made me think about retailers as askers. This new business is essentially asking $8.50 for a dress, proposing a transaction, and people appear to be obliging that request. Business is booming.

But what if we subverted this convention and started making counteroffers for dry cleaning, not to mention big ticket items like commissions? (A new survey found that commissions are rarely negotiated, even though most agents say they would willingly come down a few percentage points.) Sales staff at large, corporate stores might claim they do not have the lattitude, and smaller places might appear like they can't afford to negotiate. But if only we consumers tried. That's all I'm saying.

One more thought. I'm thinking of interviewing some excellent negotiators: a friend in the hotel industry who could talk about getting travel perks, and a woman who chipped 5k off of her new car just by walking off the lot because the asking price (great term) was too expensive. Would you be interested reading their strategies, in their own words? Please drop a comment, if you're so inclined!

Today's request is still in the works. I stopped by a few apartments, and when I find the right one I'll try to talk down the rent based on advice offered here and here, but it's going to be hard in this market. Meanwhile, I must get back to writing this dissertation, or I won't have any job offers to negotiate come spring.

UPDATE: Spurred by congress's smart move a year or so ago to attack overdraft fees -- the arrogantly levied $35 for each time the bank supplies $.14 to people who overdraw their accounts because they got duped by online ledger balances (never trust they're up to date! I've gotten burned that way!), or simply refuse to be embarrassed by having a debit card rejected at the register -- I decided to opt-out of the fees all together. I doubt congress's impulse will become a law in the near future. It's too consumer friendly, and far too logical, to pass under this administration.

So I called my branch, Washington Mutual, to ask if they could toggle that feature off, please. The response: Not on the phone. "We don't have any way of verifying that it's really the account holder on the other end. You can come in and fill out a form in person." Hmmm. I'm not a fan of double standards -- since the bank does let customers apply for home loans over the phone, and if that's not personal, I don't know what is. But let's say I'm feeling generous today, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. On the off chance they actually do have my security in mind, and don't just want to make opting out impossibly difficult, I won't rush to condemn them here. I will, however, let you know whether opting out at the branch was easy or not.

Gained: Zip.

August 17, 2008

Can we just forget my birthday?

August 17. Day 48.

"Could we forget my birthday? I mean, keep it simple. Nothing crazy or expensive. No presents. Just flowers. Please?" I turned to Mr. A with today's only request as we left my Mama's house, where we'd just had lunch with friends visiting from far away.

Every birthday so far, Mr. A has totally surprised me and put a smile on my lips that still resurfaces when I think back. Last year, he took me to my father's house in Texas and a trip to New Orleans. The year before, when we were living in different East Coast cities, horseback riding in Brooklyn, tango in the East Village, a scavenger hunt, and ice cream for dinner. The year before, jet skiing in the San Diego bay and dancing in a tiny piano bar.

Maybe my request this afternoon makes it seem like I wasn't very into all that. Or maybe like I don't appreciate it. Are you crazy? I loved it!!

What's different this year is my overall mood. I'm turning twenty something soon (a lady never tells), and I'm feeling a little blah about the whole thing. After 23, which was a dud (a bunch of people I hardly knew, partying at a bar), I've been fairly excited about my most recent birthdays -- hitting 24 (golden birthday), the quarter century mark, so on. Well this year, -- and no, I'm not turning 29, which, incidentally, I'm told is as twice as bitter as 30 -- this year, this age, I wonder... What could turning a year older possibly signify? It will be the age I turn in my PhD. That's a big deal, because I never thought I'd get this far. But besides that, what will I remember this year for? Probably, a healthy mix of work and play. It will be one year that will blend into many as that chunk of life called 'adulthood' begins to unfurl. I might go to Morocco, and perhaps Cyprus. I might have some professional victories, run into an old friend, get a memorable haircut, talk my way out of a ticket. Banalities. What I most hope, in fact, that it is a mercifully banal year, with no deaths or diagnoses or tragic mauling accidents.

So I'd like to ring in this next year quietly. Here is my plan: Wake up late, walk in the sunshine to a nearby cafe and have a frappe. Do something to celebrate the late summer afternoon, and the fact that such afternoons will stretch all the way into late October in this corner of our planet that I call home. I will also see my family, since most of the past ten years I was in different countries or cities for my birthday. For dinner, something simple, like pizza. Warm, gooey pizza. Or maybe chicken kabobs. Something routine and fresh. Because there's no reason that day should be any different than the rest.

Gained: Nothing, I hope, because that's what I'm asking for.

Can you upgrade my coupon?

August 16. Day 47.

I can finally see through my windshield! And no, I didn't get a smashing job offer or win the lottery. Simply, decided to cease putting my fellow San Diegans at risk because of reduced visibility. Isn't she a sweetheart?

As soon as I pulled up to the carwash lane, a man approached me with a page of coupons and pointed to a few different types of packages. "We have some specials. This is $5 off. This is $5 off. This is $10 off." Not bad. An entrepreneurial type of place.

As it turned out, the packages with $5 off were more along the lines of what I wanted -- full inside and outside wash, with either wax or carpet steaming -- but they were, of course, pricier. The rest of the packages weren't on sale, and offered the basics for much cheaper. I decided to try my luck. He seemed open to negotiating.

"Could I have $10 off, on this one?" I asked, pointing to the package with carpet cleaning.

He set me straight in a jiffy. "No! This is $10 off, this is $5."

"Ok, then I'll go for your basic hand wash and interior detail."

There was no coupon involved, no money saved. But if I wasn't getting what I most wanted -- a car wash and carpet steam at a good price -- then I certainly wouldn't pay extra for things I didn't really need (waxing, spiffy wheel dressing, etc) just to get a discount. Make sense?

Gained: Rien de rien.

August 16, 2008

Move in with me?

August 15. Day 46.

Tired of running between my mother's house and Mr. A's to get clothes, and dreaming about having at least a wall where I can put up some art, I decided to try my luck Craigslist. Depending on who answers, and what kind of apartment I come across, this might be just the solution I was looking for. Kind of unconventional, but why not?

Me: twenty something female professional, responsible and considerate, living part time with a boyfriend but looking for a space to call my own.

Likes: Spanish style or vintage apartments, art on the walls, hardwood floors, lots of natural light, safe neighborhood, walking not driving to cool brunch places.

Dislikes: inconsiderate or messy roommates, paying tons every month for a closet sized room.

You: Male or female, similar interests and situation.

Solution: We rent a studio or 1br for $750 to 1300 and split the rent. We each live there for a week at a time, or split the week and weekends. We share furnishing and decorating, use our own sheets and towels, and tidy up before we leave. I'm open to Bankers Hill, Mission Hills, Hillcrest, Mission/Fashion Valley, North Park, Downtown, Little Italy, maybe La Jolla Colony, etc.

Result: cheap rent and nice place to live -- much better than sharing a messy house with four roommates when we're only there half time, anyway.

What do you think?

If you're interested in something along these lines, drop me an email or call 555-555-5555.
Gained: Perhaps, half a home.

August 14, 2008

Can you give me yesterday's sale price?

August 14. Day 45.

We went to the Salvation Army this afternoon because Mr. A wanted to buy clothes and toys for people in Chiapas, where his brother will volunteer as a dentist for a week. We loaded baby clothes, tons of shoes, dresses and skirts, and men's clothes -- including sweatshirts, which I'm told are in high demand and very expensive there -- onto the counter.

When our turn came, Mr. A pointed to a calendar with various daily promotions. Yesterday, and every Wednesday, clothes are 50% off. "You could ask," he hinted.

"Hi," I told the cashier. "Can I ask you a question? We bought all these clothes to donate in Mexico, so since it's for a good cause, could you give us yesterday's price?"

The woman smiled guiltily. "I'm not supposed to do that, but.... Okay! Just don't tell anyone. They don't like it when I do that."

"Thanks, you are awesome," I said.

She rang everything up and told Mr. A the total as he took out his credit card: "Fifty one." For three oversized bags stuffed with clothes? Sweet.

On the way out, Mr. A inspected the receipt. It turns out she rang everything up for fifteen. As in one five. Twenty-one minus six. A third of half of ninety. $15.

There's no way all those clothes and shoes would have cost $30 before the discount. Just two of the items I picked out, a dress and a skirt, were $15 at full price.

Was it a mistake? Did she invert the digits? Or was that her sneaky way of loosening our budget to enable some more donations? Because with money to spare, we headed to Amvets and loaded up on some toys and more clothes.

Gained: An estaimated $85!? Is that possible?!

August 13, 2008

Hello LA! Can I have a discount?

August 13. Day 44.

Greetings from Santa Monica! More specifically, from Mr. A's car in LA traffic on our way to Santa Monica.

We've been on the road since yesterday, taking his brother to a few favorite haunts -- Idyllwild, the mountain village where I spent almost every vacation as a child and which still has many charms, even for a grown up, and now the beach at sunset.

And... I have discovered mobile blogging!

In Idyllwild, I wandered into my favorite candy shop, where the smell of sugar hits you the second you open the door. I ordered a watermelon and pink lemonade doused sno-cone, and shyly told the teenage cashier that I used to get one of those every day when I visited Idyllwild as a little girl.

She nodded indifferently, and I suddently felt very, very old.

On to the next boutiques. At 4:58, I entered an antique shop that closes at 5, but the owner invited me in anyway.

"I'll be quick," I promised. "Just a glance."

Ten minutes later, the glance turned into one of my most efficient shopping expeditions in recent history. I piled a bavarian porcelain dish, a cake cutter, a hand embroidered table cloth and a delicate plate onto her counter. Time to get to work.

"Could we do a discount, since I'm getting a few things?"

"Ten percent is the most I can do. Cash or credit card?"

"Ten percent is great. Well, I guess you prefer cash? Let me see what I have on me."

I had $36. The total was $41. I put the money on the counter and showed her my empty wallet.

"$36 is fine."

Tips: cash is your friend, but know ahead how much you have or put a ballpark appropriate amount in your wallet first; places where the owner runs the register are ideal; and let people feel they are working with you, not for you, when they provide the discount (depends, of course -- you also need to read the person's attitude)

Gained: $5.

August 12, 2008

Breaking News: Asker, Norway!

August 12. Day 43.

My latest dream: see Asker, Norway, before I die.

I discovered this city, formerly home to the Norwegian royal family and now a charming Oslo suburb, when I googled "daily asker" for the first time and came across this site. Key excerpt:
In the 1860s, a new era began: Technical developments, particularly the steam ship, paved paved the way for new opportunities. Fishing and Horticulture compered with agriculture as the most important activity because products could now be quickly transported by steam ship to the market. Asker was noted for its RASPBERRIES, and the area became affectionately known as the "raspberry coast".
Ye gads!! This is meant to be. I have to make it to Asker.

If anyone from Asker is reading this, I would be thrilled if you dropped me a line and told me more about yourself and your city. I'm at thedailyasker [at] gmail [dot] com. I would also be happy to invite you to visit me in San Diego, California. Perhaps one day, I will have to pleasure of seeing your city as well.


La Roxy

August 11, 2008

Some advice for my friend?

August 11. Day 42.

What is it about the week of August 11?

In 1999, on August 11 I watched the last solar eclipse of the last millennium from its epicenter, a farm house in the Romanian countryside. Ten minutes before the sky went black, the animals started squawking and running around, as if announcing to anyone who would listen that the apocalypse was coming. Then then they went silent, and cowered in fear. Two hours later, on the drive back to the capital, Bucharest, our tour bus broke down during a diabolical hail storm, on a rural highway surrounded by rolling hills, provoked, I imagine, by the rapid change in temperatures.

As 30 people slept or fretted on the damp grass, I ended up hitch hiking with the driver to the closest city, to get any kind help we could. Our salvation came close to midnight, in the form of Niki, a mechanic who emerged in his silk jammies, curly chest hair peeking between the gold chains draped around his neck. He sold the driver a serpentine belt, and with the last cents in my pocket I bought bread and chocolate from a convenience store to feed the famished tourists. (I'll never make that mistake again. When you have a busload of hungry people, better get double the bread and no dessert. But I was a Californian on vacation. What did I know about hunger?)

The week of August 11 in 2001 I traveled down the Amalfi coast with Miss E, and my wallet was stolen. I still don't know what bothered me more -- losing $300 in cash, all my credit cards and some jewelry, or being stupid enough to leave the purse on my shoulder unzipped. Then, our train stopped for three hours on the moonlit coastline because someone tried to commit suicide.

In 2002, this blessed week, I went to Giglio, an island off the Tuscan coast, with La Sorella. Two nice young men invited us for gelato, and we accepted. The next thing we knew, they were driving us to a remote beach where they were toying with the idea of, I believe the proper term would be, raping us. We kept our cool, telling them them we wanted to go disco dancing first and have some drinks. They obliged, and there we ran as far and fast as we could.

And last year, on August 11 I drove down the West Coast from Seattle to San Diego with my life's posessions. Nothing "happened." But it was, again, travel, and the kind that separates two phases in your life.

Today, I wonder, what will happen today? I sit at a laptop and glance out the window. A chicken is roasting in my oven. The fan is whirring, because it's finally fullblown summer. What a simple, simple August afternoon.

What I asked for today was also simple. Advice for a friend. He's about to travel to southern Mexico to volunteer at a dental clinic for a week, and he's never been there before. I put him in touch with another friend, who's from that region, and asked if she'd be able to meet with him and tell him about the area, answer some questions about safety, give him he scoop on places to visit and interesting things to look out for. She immediately wrote back to say of course she'll meet with him. This way, I hope his trip will be less eventful than my August 11 travels.

Gained: Advice for a friend, and connecting two cool people with similar interests (travel, humanitarian aid, art)

August 10, 2008

Of Blockbuster discounts, Italian stereotypes and the askers of tomorrow

August 10. Day 41.

A friend wrote with this note:

I came across this weirdly offensive youtube video on a blog I sometimes read:

It made me think of the "women don't ask" aspect of your blog -- why women specifically? What's different about socialization, norms, whatever.
The cartoon is a joke (and a "joke"), but it on target about one thing: it reproduces stereotypes, i.e. how the genders are generally perceived. Why each is perceived that way, and what generalizations one could or should make about how different groups view access, privilege, negotiation and entitlement is still nebulous to me. If I may bounce the question back to you, readers, does anyone have any idea why women and men are such different askers?

Today I'm feeling ansy. It's 10:58, the time I usually roll out of bed on a Sunday, only I woke up around 7 because I had so much work to do. The day has barely started and I already feel like it's the afternoon.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some asking to do. Ta-ta.

EVENING UPDATE: I asked for a bulk discount at Blockbuster, for renting four videos at once: "Could I maybe rent 3 and get 1 free, or do you have any half-off deals?" The cashier explained that he's not authorized to give any special discounts, and I didn't push it. (Just don't ask me when I plan to see four movies in five days.)

And now, we interrupt this blogcast with a special report about the askers of tomorrow.

My worries about women and money were alleviated for about 30 seconds this evening, when I witnessed this encounter between Mr. A's 3-year-old niece and her grandfather.

CP (Cutie Pie): Give me money!

Grandpa: You want to feed your piggie?

CP: Yes!

Grandpa: You want to make your piggie grow nice and fat?

CP: Yes!!

Mumsie: Say thank you.

CP: Thank you.

CP extends her chubby hands as Grandpa fishes a dollar bill from his wallet. Eyes gleaming, she crumples the bill into a wad and clamps it until she can stuff it into her bank. Yay, little asker!

This contrasts, however, a scene a few days ago, when a family of four was at a restaurant and the father gave the son a few dollars to drop in the tip jar, reaching right past his daughter. This detail evaded the mother, who was people watching.

A girl, and an only child, demands what she wants and gets it. But with two children, the father and the boy handle the money while the females don't even come mentally or physically close to it. Two incidents -- too tiny a data set. Or is it?

What time is it?

August 9. Day 40.

Gotcha. Did you think I was going to count "What time is it?" as one of my questions? Come, now, gentle reader. Haven't we come to expect more from each other?

We're 40 days into this experiment. That same mystical period which the soul is said to float around the body of a dead person, and the number of days or years various people spent time in the desert (Jews, Jesus, inversely).

Asking for something every day, I'm discovering, is a lot harder than I imagined. For one, I feel I'm generally satisfied with my life. I also don't have that many opportunities to negotiate, hence the many postings from cafes and check out stands.

But today, I had an experience that made me think I'm going about this the wrong way.

I went to the beach at Dana Point to meet up with a group of family and friends, a reunion of sorts. A few of us began playing bocce. It was my first time. As I watched and learned, the game's owner handed me the tiny bocce ball to throw into the sand. (Goal: the players have to throw or roll their own colored balls as close to the bocce as possible.) I threw it for several rounds, until someone won. Then I joined the game and my friend said, "Who wants to throw the ball? Roxy went easy on us. Didn't make us work very hard. Does someone want to give it a good hurl?"

I froze inside.

It had never occurred to me to throw it further, even though I had plenty of space. I tossed it what seemed an acceptable distance, about halfway between where the players were and the beach towels.

Half way.

It's exactly what I keep on reading: When female students were offered money for a task in an experiment and offered compensation, they said thanks and walked away; male students asked for more. When women are told to name their salary, they rarely push the envelope, assuming there's a cap or simply fooling themselves into feeling satisfied.

Why didn't I hurl that ball?

Why am I quick to please, and why is it so hard for me to seize new asking opportunities?


Today's question, by the way, happened before the bocce revelation. Driving to the beach, I realized I forgot to bring a towel.

"Mama, can we stop at Marshalls?"

I believe that's the only thing I asked for, all day.

Maybe I can turn it around and ask you: Why don't women ask? Okay, we're socialized not to, but even when if we're aware of the situation and are trying to remedy it, we still conceive of a smaller, less ambitious and less rewarding playing field. At least, I did, today.

Like I said, it's been hard some days to come up with opportunities. But I do aim to stop aiming so low.

Gained: A soft grey oversized towel. A shudder. A jolt.

August 06, 2008

What's your salary?

August 8. Day 39.

I've come across a part-time job possibility, to round out my grad school fellowship and/or cover an occasional tank of gas.

As a true acolyte of Women Don't Ask, I knew what I had to do before accepting any offer or even considering taking the job: I had to determine my salary.

Step 1) Get informed to figure out what the market pays and what you're worth in it
Step 2) Let them make an offer or provide a range
Step 3) Negotiate!!!!!!!!!!!!

Today I took the first step and asked someone in a related profession what he/she earns, as well as a few other little details. It was over phone and email. If I asked in a nice way, perhaps I'll get an answer. After all, maybe this person also asked the same thing of someone else.

Gained: No answer so far, but in a few days I hope to know what the going rate is in this town.

Two askings in one day

August 7. Day 38.

I made two small requests today, which may add up to a whole one.

I) I went grocery shopping at a Whole Foods I don't usually visit and discovered two products I'd been on the lookout for: their store made hummus, which I first experienced on the Fourth of July in Sequoia courtesy of T&T, and a pack of dried carrots, which I used to munch on in Boston and haven't found so far in California.

But I was underwhelmed by both products. The hummus was lumpy and definitely a different style from what I had tasted (perhaps the store version varies by location, or I picked up the wrong kind), and the carrots were incredibly salty.

Old me: toss everything in the fridge. Someone will eat it eventually. Or not. But you don't return food. Not to a grocery store! New me: "Hello? Could I speak with someone in customer service? Thanks. Hi. I bought some things from your store today that weren't what I expected. No, nothing wrong, just not what I was hoping for. Could I bring them in for a refund? Yes, I have the receipt."

Gained I: Nothing, but almost $10 will be restored to my credit card.

II) I was sitting in a cafe (as usual), trying to work (as usual) when I realize I needed to get outside of my head. I had written two intro sentences to a piece I'm already in a rush to finish, and I couldn't decide between them. One was snappy, the other descriptive. So I turned to the first person I saw and asked her if she'd mind giving me her input.

It was kind of random. I definitely ran the risk of imposing. And I had no idea about her tastes or even her first language (she seemed foreign and it was an Italian cafe). But she smiled when I approached her, and she was a reader. Oh, and she could read English. That's all that mattered. I needed to connect with anyone who might come across my opening sentences. She cast her vote -- the snappy version -- with this explanation: "It's more direct. It instantly gets my attention." (No, it wasn't for this blog, but as you see, I took her advice twice.)

Gained II: A reader's opinion, and a reminder to cut to the chase.

Could you make two out of one?

August 6. Day 37.

Every once in a while I, too, succumb to the pleasures of the senses and give in to the vilest and most violent types of hedonism and debauchery. I'm not proud of it, but hiding my foibles would be nothing more than hypocritical. Don't we all abandon reason and rationality in pursuit of some of life's most exhilarating pleasures? Don't we all have a private source of bliss -- or is it torture -- which startles us awake every morning and soothes us every night into fitful, dreamful sleep?

Mine is frozen yogurt. The tart kind, that makes your tongue pucker and your insides shiver in ways you never thought possible.

On the way to appease my craving this afternoon, I Googled "Yog-Art coupons" on my smartphone and wished, for once, that the stoplight would stay red a few seconds longer. That's how I discovered that my favorite tart yogurt spot accepts competitors's coupons.

First stop: The intersection of 6th and University, which is full of weekly event magazines like The Reader. I opened directly to the coupon page, where a 30% discount for Capri Yogurt smiled at me from between ads for free lunches, new boobs, and other modern miracles.

I presented my coupon to the Yog-Art cashier before ordering, to check. It was valid.

Needless to say, I decided on a large. (With the coupon, it would only be about $4.)

The young man grabbed the cup -- should I say bucket? -- and started coiling the frozen nectar. In a few seconds, his hand began dropping under the weight of so much yogurt. And he kept going. The stiff, hard mass, now a powerful cylinder, grew taller and taller, ever more solid, until it passed the rim of the cup and finally tapered to a gentle end, a whopping eight inches above.

I finally exhaled.

"Do people usually order that much for themselves, or for groups of eight?" I asked casually.

He eyed me curiously. Was I interested in group activities?

"Well, some people eat it by themselves, but only if they're reeeeeally hungry," he offered.

I realized that as good as it looked, there was no way I could eat a pound of frozen yogurt by myself. And so I did the only thing I could.

"Do you have a freezer?" He looked at me squarely. It was, after all, a frozen yogurt shop. "Would you be able to split that into two portions and put one in the freezer, so I can eat it later?"

He kindly obliged. I ended up eating one on the spot and took one home.

Gained: $3.50 (the price of a small yogurt).

August 05, 2008

How do I treat a burn?

August 5. Day 36.

Today we're getting personal. If you're squeamish about hair removal, come back tomorrow. I do promise, however, that I will revert to more benign askings -- finance and perks -- after this.

I burned myself today, and I didn't even realize it. It wasn't deep, but enough to turn the top layer of skin into crinkled tissue ready tear at the nearest touch. Enough to leave a bright pink rim where healthy skin meets raw. Enough to blister or scar if I don't treat it.

I was waxing my legs, which I started doing once I decided that paying $60 at a salon just isn't worth it. Not for what breaks down into $8 for wax, a hefty cut for for electricity and rent, another premium for expertise, and a hugest premium for self-indulgence. After all, people won't feel like they're spoiling themselves if they're actually getting a good deal. (Side note: In Argentina, waxing runs about $20. The service is considered routine, the necessity that it is, like getting your oil changed. Far from a luxury, hence no luxury premium. What would it take to shift the mentality in the states?) (Another side note: Part of my so-called disdain may stem from my lack of discretionary income. If I weren't a grad student, or if I happened to find an extra $50,000 every month in an envelope tucked under my pillow or waiting for me on random empty elevators, I would revert to salon services. I might also get an occasional car wash.)

I only noticed something was off an hour later, when I glanced down in sunlight and saw a feathery pattern on my shin. Was that -- a burn? But it didn't hurt at all. I looked online for photos and came across some really vivid images I'll spare you (note to self: no photo on today's posting), but most of the information was confusing and unreliable. So I called my doctor for a phone consult.

I include this here, as an asking, because it's so easy to not use the resources we're offered or we pay for. We want to be competent. We want to be self-sufficient. Delegating is so middle manager.

Gained: knowledge how to treat a second-degree burn (cool water, no ointment until the next day -- but really, this is second hand and every case is different, so ask a doc!)

August 04, 2008

Free massage?

August 4. Day 35.

Okay, okay, okay!

It was a longshot, I know...

It was a cheapshot, I admit...

But I just thought I'd toss it out there, and see how the chips fell.

I didn't have anything to lose, you know?

Fine, fine. Enough throat clearing.

There's a massage school behind Mr. A's apartment, and I keep thinking about booking an appointment. I finally got around to calling today, and thought I might as well see if I could, well, score a massage for half-off or even, for that matter, for free? As a first time customer? As someone in the neighborhood who might come back every month? As someone who's just askin'?

It was almost a relief when the receptionist told me no. It wouldn't have felt very relaxing to accept a free massage. I would have left a tip for the price of the massage, to alleviate my guilt. And he was very sweet. Didn't make me feel like the cheap beggar that I am.

Gained: Niente.

End-of-the-day discount?

August 3. Day 34.

I love that you can wake up at noon, bike over to a farmers market and get "end-of-the-day" specials an hour after waking up.

I rolled up just as they were packing their boxes, and that's exactly when to get deals like:

--Two for one zucchini
--Peaches and nectarines, $2 per pound, down from $2.50.
--Red carnations, $7 for two bouquets, down from $9.

Gained: about $5

Lucky at Lulu: Can we share your table?

August 2. Day 33.

By midnight every Saturday, downtown San Diego turns into one magical frat party. Girls spilling out of their dresses, and guys spilling onto their dresses, as the lovely scent of beer wafts through the air.

"I didn't realize the fashion these days is to wear a dress shorter than your underwear," Mr. A said as a gaggle of coeds tottered in front of us.

"That's not the fashion these days. Some looks are timeless," I answered.

We wandered towards Lulu, a corner of chill tranquility, only to find a velvet rope blocking the door. That was a first. It's a hookah lounge, and the kind of place that doesn't need a bouncer because, paradoxically, it's too classy for downtown.

Waited ten seconds. No one came. Waited five. No one was watching. So Mr. A lifted the rope, and we were in.

There was a single empty table. I rushed over to claim it, and he went to order drinks. Seconds later, a waiter swooped over to inform me the table was reserved. There was a couple outside, he said, waiting. He disappeared and returned with the couple. I got up and started walking away as they approached, but I thought I'd try something first. I turned to the girl.

"Would it be okay if we shared your table?"

"Oh, you can have it," she said, cozying up to her friends at the table next to the reserved one. "We're sitting here."

So apparently they hadn't reserved it, and no one was claiming that table but me. Before this exeriment I would have respectfully walked away, without a question. Instead, I was drinking Pinot Noir and smiling at Mr. A through hookah smoke from across the table.

Gained: A table on a crowded Saturday night

August 02, 2008

Lower my interest rate?

August 1. Day 32.

And with this posting, gentle readers, the nifty date-to-day correspondence disintegrates.

Every year, I customarily ask for a reduction on my credit card's APR, and every year I get it. Until now. I called US Bank with this routine question for my Visa card, only to learn that my interest rate is "already quite low for a rewards card," but maybe if I check back again in a few months they might lower it. I don't like that qualification -- for a rewards card -- and I don't understand why November might be a better moment than August. But the credit industry's inner workings and public justifications are more obscure to me than any of the literary theory gems I've read in grad school. Or perhaps not, on second thought. Bottom line: They want my money, and there's nothing to stop them from asking for it.

(At the same time, I never carry a balance, so the interest rate is more preventive than necessary. Does that confirm beyond the shadow of any doubt that I'm a virgo?)

(At the same same time, just because they refused my request doesn't mean they won't be amenable to yours. Seriously -- try calling. In a few years, I've dropped mine from 15 percent to 10! Just a friendly tip.)

Gained: Today, nothing. This week, help for a strapped, and trapped, homeseller. Remember that friend of a friend of a friend who's struggling to sell his house in a chaotic Eastern European capital? Well, I asked my agent acquaintance if she'd be willing to work with him, and she said yes!